Harvard asked to overturn gay expulsions of 1920

Stephen Gray February 28, 2012
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Harvard University is being called on to formally reverse the results of a secret investigation which saw several students expelled in 1920 for being gay.

A protest is scheduled for Wednesday when Lady Gaga will visit the institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts to launch her Born This Way anti-bullying foundation.

The Their Day In The Yard movement will call on the university to issue posthumous degrees to the men it expelled and formally abolish the Secret Court.

In 1920, following the suicide of undergraduate Cyril Wilcox, Harvard’s Acting Dean Chester Greenough was alerted to a number of students holding gay parties that an anonymous tip-off said “beggared description”.

The letter received by the dean named some gay students and asked: “Isn’t it about time an end was put to this sort of thing in college?”

In the early summer of that year, Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell formed what he called a Secret Court to identify the university’s actively gay students at the university and expel them and others deemed to be too close them.

Lowell’s court only came to light in 2002 after a chance discovery in the university archives.

Eugene R. Cummings, a gay 23-year-old dentistry student, killed himself using drugs from a university sick bay before he could be expelled by the court.

Some students who were expelled went on to marry, some died prematurely. Two students were allowed to return to the university but the institution cut its ties with seven others.

The movement Their Day in the Yard was originally founded in 2010 and aims to secure the official abolition of the 1920s court and posthumous degrees for the deceased men.

In 2002, Harvard University’s President Lawrence H. Summers said: “These reports of events long ago are extremely disturbing. They are part of a past that we have rightly left behind. I want to express our deep regret for the way this situation was handled, as well as the anguish the students and their families must have experienced eight decades ago.

“Whatever attitudes may have been prevalent then, persecuting individuals on the basis of sexual orientation is abhorrent and an affront to the values of our university. We are a better and more just community today because those attitudes have changed as much as they have.”

A petition to current Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust which has 2,600 signatures, says: “I write to ask that you officially abolish the Harvard Secret Court of 1920.

“Furthermore, I urge you to grant the seven expelled students posthumous honorary degrees. These students have no justice until their records have been expunged and the Court’s decision is reversed. Until this is done, the Court and its work is still very much alive.” has asked Harvard for its position on the issue.

More: Americas, harvard, lady gaga, Massachusetts, University, US, US

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